Carnegie Mellon University

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards competition and celebration are paused for 2020-2021.

About the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards


From violence, to bigotry, to bias and discrimination of all kinds, teens and young adults are not immune to the ugly side of humanity.

Founded in 1999 by Jim Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards encourages young people to share their personal experiences with difference and discrimination through poetry and prose. The awards prompt students to think about Martin Luther King, Jr. in the context of their everyday lives. 

Co-sponsored by Carnegie Mellon's Department of English, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, and Dietrich College, the awards are open to all currently enrolled high school and undergraduate and graduate university students in western Pennsylvania and all Carnegie Mellon campuses. We invite entries from students from all backgrounds and disciplines. The top three winners in each category receive cash prizes and read their work for Carnegie Mellon University's celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Honorable mentions and the best entries from each participating school are also recognized. 

A book of the award-winning work is published and distributed at the event. The online archive of these books—as well as our anthology, Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards—keeps the discussion alive by making the students' work accessible to an even larger audience. Winners are also featured in print and broadcast media and included in readings and discussions in Pittsburgh and beyond.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and a transition in program leadership, the awards competition and celebration will not take place in 2020-2021.

Thousands of students have participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards to date. A free online study guide to the anthology enables educators anywhere to use the works for discussion and prompts for writing. Recently-updated lesson plans on racial discrimination and the school experience will help teachers and students to read, discuss, and write about current events.

The Fall Speakers Series complements the awards by bringing to Carnegie Mellon's campus two authors whose work reflect the goals and values of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards. Their readings are free and open to the public. 

View the videos for more information about the awards and their impact. Follow the links to read the prizewinning works and learn about the annual awards celebration.